Allen Iverson might be done. Chauncey Billups has only begun.
The Denver Nuggets season is, at its core, the story of two men. Iverson is the man who was shipped away. Billups is the man who came home to revive a franchise.
The Iverson for Billups trade, completed in November, is right up there with the best trades in Colorado sports history. There’s the Broncos stealing John Elway from the Colts and the Avs swiping Patrick Roy from Montreal.
And there’s the Nuggets making Detroit Pistons guru Joe Dumars look utterly silly.
Billups has carried the Nuggets to the their first playoff series victory since 1994. He brought a new brand of work ethic to Denver. He changed a franchise from a fun-to-watch circus to a diligent, if not quite so entertaining, winner.
At 7:21 Wednesday night, Billups was lacing up his shoes as he prepared to battle Chris Paul. Meanwhile, Iverson was back home with his five children after a disappointing season with the Pistons.
Iverson has hinted he may retire. That, Allen, would be a great idea.
Nuggets coach George Karl grimaced when asked to define the differences between Billups and Iverson.
“I don’t know if I want to answer that,” Karl said.
But he did.
“They’re just two different tyle of players. Chauncey likes … to be a team leader and a daily responsible guy and A.I. just likes to play.”
And, Karl explained, Billups fully embraces his role as point guard. Iverson could only impersonate a point guard.
Iverson was, at his peak, a mini Michael Jordan. He was the NBA’s quickest player. He could not be stopped.
But as Iverson aged, his me-first act drained a team instead of lifted it. Iverson is only a year older than Billups, but his style doesn’t work now that he’s lost a step.
Billups places his teammates needs above his own. He emphasizes defense over offense. He’s utterly dedicated to victory and only slightly interested in the showy side of the game.
He’s converted the Nuggets from playoff losers to playoff victors.
Iverson played a young man’s version of the game, which means he wanted everyone – including his teammates – to get out of his way so he could score. Iverson’s style turned him into an old man on the court before his time.
Billups plays a version of the game that will keep him young. He uses his teammates to lighten his load. He could keep passing and defending his way to wins for a long time.
Utah’s John Stockton once played the game with the same precision and passion that Billups now delivers for the Nuggets.
And here’s the encouraging number to remember about Stockton. He played, and played well, until he was 40.
Billups is 32, which means the good times could roll in Denver for another half-decade.